‘He made the stars also …’ (Genesis 1:16)
Interview with creationist astronomer Danny Faulkner
Dr Danny R. Faulkner has a B.S. (Math), M.S. (Physics), M.A. & Ph.D. (Astronomy, Indiana University). He is Associate Professor at the University of South Carolina–Lancaster, where he teaches physics and astronomy. He has published about two dozen papers in various astronomy and astrophysics journals.
Carl Wieland/Jonathan Sarfati [CW/JS]: Dr Faulkner, how did you get interested in astronomy?
Dr Faulkner [DF]: Well, I can honestly say there hasn’t been a time in my life when I’ve not been interested in astronomy. I recall being three or four years old, looking up at the sky, being amazed at what was up there.
CW/JS: Many people have this image of an astronomer, sitting there each night staring into a telescope.
DF: There really aren’t any who spend all of their time looking through telescopes. The few research astronomers who do spend a good deal of time—they have to analyse the data they collect, write it up, plan future observations. So even the ‘full-time researchers’ probably only spend about two months of the year actually observing. Most astronomers, like myself, have an academic job teaching in university or other related jobs and we do research when we can. Usually I get in seven to fifteen nights a year at a local observatory and a few more when travelling elsewhere.
How did you become a Christian?
I had a conversion at age six. My father was a minister of a small church and just as I can’t remember not being interested in astronomy, I can’t remember not going to church.
Some teach that the big bang theory of how the universe evolved is such an obvious fact that we should accept it as if it had been written in the ‘sixty-seventh book of the Bible’.
That’s absolute rubbish. I’m really concerned with people who put that much faith in the big bang. It is the overwhelmingly dominant model, and they’ve had a few impressive predictions, like the background radiation. But it has many problems—they keep changing the model to make it fit the data we have. As a Christian, my biggest concern is that it doesn’t agree at all with the Genesis account of how the world came to be, and my big concern is that when you make that the fingerprint of God, as it were, then when the big bang is discarded, what does that do to Christianity? [See also What are some of the problems with the big bang theory?]
Genesis teaches that the earth was created first and then the sun, moon and the stars were created three days later. Is there any observation in your field of astronomy which would disprove this, or make it difficult to believe?
No. Most astronomers as well as geologists argue that the universe is aged 20 billion years, and the earth ‘scarcely’ 4.5 billion years old. All that’s really built upon a lot of indirect evidence and arguments—evidence that could very easily be interpreted other ways, and there are some other astronomical suggestions that the solar system and the earth and the rest of the universe are not really that old at all.
Can you give us some of these?
First, comets disintegrate too rapidly to have been in their present orbits for all those billions of years. So evolutionists theorise about a shell of comets, an ‘Oort cloud’ too far out to see, to act as a way to ‘restock’ the inner solar system with comets every so often.
However, there’s no scientific reason to believe that there really is an Oort cloud. The so-called Kuiper belt, closer in, has been put forward as a theoretical source of shorter period comets. However, even if there are comets in this region, it doesn’t solve the problem for the evolutionists, because the Oort cloud would still be needed to resupply the Kuiper belt after a while. [For more information, see Dr Faulkner’s detailed technical article Comets and the age of the solar system.]
Then there is the moon—due to tidal friction, this is slowly spiraling away from the earth, which is slowing down its rotation. If you calculate back a billion and a half years ago, the moon would have been in direct contact with the earth. So that is a very strong indicator that the moon can’t be even a third as old as the claimed 4.5 billion years, and it is probably vastly less than that. [See The Moon: the light that rules the night.]
Also, theory suggests we should find plenty of, say, million-year-old supernova remnants, but we don’t find any—though there are many that are thousands of years old. And that is a very startling result if you really believe in a universe that’s millions of years old [see Exploding stars point to a young universe, Creation 19(3):46–48, June–August 1997 and Q&A: ‘Young’ age of the earth & universe.]
How old do you think the universe is?
Probably six to eight thousand years.
Have you ever doubted what the Bible teaches about recent six-day creation?
Not seriously. I may have gone through a brief period when I was in high school or so, due to encountering people who were into theistic evolution, but then I got a copy of one of Henry Morris’s early books. Then I learned more and more about other scientists who believed in a recent creation.
Why is it important to believe in this?
Well, we have a very clear indication from Scripture that the creation really took place in six ordinary days [see How long were the days mentioned in the biblical creation account?]. And if you think it didn’t, then you are going to have to ask the question, ‘How do you know that it didn’t happen that way?’ Good biblical exegesis will simply not allow for a much greater length of time [see How long were the days of Genesis 1?]. And once you decide you are going to let ‘science’ dictate how you are going to interpret Scripture then there is no end to it. I recently read about former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, quoted as saying that he believes in the Virgin Birth but he doesn’t believe that the world was created in six days. I think if asked why not, he would say, well, because of overwhelming scientific evidence. And I think I would reply to that, the overwhelming scientific evidence is that a virgin birth is not possible. So be consistent on this point; one’s a miracle, so is the other. If you don’t believe in recent six day creation then it opens the door to serious doubts about the Virgin Birth, about the Resurrection; those would also be scientific ‘impossibles’.
What about the argument that the universe must be old, because light would take millions of years to get here from distant stars?
That has long been the biggest challenge for creationists. There have been several suggested answers—one from Australia around 13 years ago was [Barry] Setterfield’s possible drop in the speed of light. When I first encountered that I thought it was a pretty good idea, but there are a lot of consequences of that and I don’t any more think it is the answer. Perhaps the most common idea is that God created the light in transit. I have a real problem with that one. For example, when a distant supernova explodes, there is all sorts of detailed information in the light—the speed of expansion, what isotopes are involved, even sometimes a reflected light echo from nearby gas. Yet if the light was created ‘on its way’, all this is phony information—nothing like it ever occurred. This reminds me of a fellow named Gosse who was saying over 100 years ago that God created fossils inside the earth ready-made. I think this ‘light created on its way’ idea is a first cousin of Gosse’s notion.
So what idea do you like?
I got really excited with the cosmology which Russ Humphreys presented three years ago in Pittsburgh. It’s the first serious attempt that young-world creationists have offered as an alternative for first of all the universe itself—cosmology—and second a very detailed explanation for the distant starlight issue.1 I think that’s very impressive, and even if it turns out that Russell’s not right he’s certainly leading the way in that kind of work.
What about stars claimed to be forming today?
Stars supposedly condensed out of vast clouds of gas, and it has long been recognised that the clouds don’t spontaneously collapse and form stars, they need to be pushed somehow to be started. There have been a number of suggestions to get the process started, and almost all of them require having stars to start with. This is the old chicken and egg problem; it can’t account for the origin of stars in the first place. [See also Stars could not have come from the big bang.]
Stars are not very complex, and so-called ‘stellar evolution’ (though I don’t necessarily accept all of it) is a different critter from biological evolution. So I don’t have a problem with the idea that a cloud of gas, created initially by God in a special unstable condition, or compressed by a shock wave from a nearby exploding star, might collapse under its own gravity and start to heat up to form a new star. [See also Are stars forming today?. There is also the problem of getting rid of excess angular momentum so that the nascent star doesn’t spin itself apart, and this problem is still unsolved as of the February 1997 issue of Astrophysical Journal—see What Slows The Spin Of Young, Rapidly Rotating Stars?. The conservation of angular momentum is a problem for the evolutionary origin of the solar system—see a brief explanation.]
The Psalmist writes that the heavens declare the glory of God. What do you see as the best evidence for that?
I think the universe is a mighty beautiful place—I view God as the supreme artist. Then we see that there are a lot of incredible and unique things about the earth which make life possible. For example, as far as we know, liquid water only exists on the earth. We see water in vapour form in the atmospheres of several planets, in stars and the material between them. We’ve identified water in solid form—on Mars, on asteroids and comets, possibly even on Mercury. But the only place we know for sure2 that there is liquid water, one of the essential ingredients for life to exist, is on Earth. Even if it were proven elsewhere, liquid water would still be an amazingly rare and precious commodity that the earth has in abundance.
References and notes
- See Dr Humphreys’ popular book Starlight and Time for a lay and technical explanation of this model. Return to text.
- Note that there is now doubt about the claim of ice in moon craters (New Scientist, 14 June 1997, p.13). Dr Faulkner said to us after the interview that the alleged evidence for subsurface liquid water on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, is much more speculative and indirect than most think. Return to text.